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Farming

Welsh sheep farmers to help Farming Connect create EBV for methane yield

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WELSH farmers could soon have the option to breed sheep with a naturally low carbon footprint thanks to a new Farming Connect project with ambition to create an estimated breeding value (EBV) for methane yield.

Emissions from lambs in flocks involved in Farming Connect’s Welsh Sheep Genetics Project are being measured with portable accumulation chambers.

It is just one element of several linked to genetics that the programme will investigate over the next two years to help farmers strengthen flock performance, improve productivity and increase profitability, but an important one, says Heledd Dancer, Farming Connect’s Sheep Genetics Officer for Mid Wales, as it will give farmers the opportunity to select animals which genetically produce less methane.

This will help farmers assess and change their breeding programme and system to select sheep with lower methane emissions, enabling them to lower the carbon footprint of their flock and farm as well as contributing as an industry to reducing the overall environmental impact of methane emissions.

“We are giving farmers the unique opportunity to develop this EBV with us,’’ says Heledd.

“We know that sheep produce methane and we know there is a relationship between factors like gut size, so the intention is to figure out which animals in their flock can contribute to reducing methane emissions.’’

The chambers allow measurements to be taken from up to 12 sheep at a time – this will be done by Aberystwyth-based Innovis, who is working in conjunction with Farming Connect on this project; to allow for consistency, those sheep will be kept on the same grazing regime for the previous three weeks.

As methane yield is a heritable trait, measurements will be taken from lambs that have been produced by a variety of sires.

The project aims to take measurements from over 1000 lambs over a two-year period.

Gwawr Williams, Head of Sheep Genetics at Farming Connect, said this number is sufficient to develop a usable EBV for methane yield.

“It would also be sufficient to give us a good estimate of heritability within the population, for which we usually consider 900-1000 animals to be the minimum,’’ she says.

There is good evidence that sheep with lower methane yields have a lower reticulorumen volume therefore the project will also utilise CT scanning to obtain accurate measures of reticulorumen dimensions in the live animal.

“It is vital that we understand changes in reticulorumen volume that may be associated with breeding sheep with a lower methane yield so that we can ensure there are no unintended consequences in terms of the sheep’s ability to utilise low quality forages,’’ says Gwawr.

There are now over a hundred flocks involved in the Welsh Sheep Genetics Programme within two tiers, which also includes flocks which transitioned over from Hybu Cig Cymru’s Hill Ram Scheme.

Tier 1 is specific to hill and upland breeds while Tier 2 is for maternal breeds including the Blue Faced Leicester, Lleyn, Romney and Charmoise Hill.

Farming

Conservatives challenge Welsh Government over farming scheme

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THE WELSH CONSERVATIVES have announced a debate in the Senedd, scheduled for July 17, 2024, focusing on the importance of Welsh farming and challenging the Welsh Labour Government’s approach to agricultural policy. The debate comes in the wake of ongoing concerns over the proposed Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) and its impact on the farming community.

The motion, brought forward by the Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs, James Evans MS, aims to highlight the critical role of farming in Wales. Evans criticised the Welsh Labour Government’s handling of agricultural issues, stating that the current SFS does not adequately support farmers and overlooks the essential contributions of the farming sector to the Welsh economy and rural communities.

“Labour continues to take our farmers for granted,” Evans said. “Unlike Labour, the Welsh Conservatives would make sure we have a Sustainable Farming Scheme that works for our farmers, not against them, safeguarding the future of our crucial industry.”

The motion to be debated reads:

  1. Celebration of Economic Contribution: The Senedd is urged to celebrate the valuable economic contribution of Welsh farming to the economy.
  2. Support for Rural Events: The motion acknowledges the benefits of events like the Royal Welsh Show and the National Eisteddfod in supporting rural communities and promoting Welsh culture and language.
  3. Opposition to Current SFS: It supports the strong opposition within the agricultural community against the current SFS, reinforcing the message “no farmers, no food.”
  4. Call for Government Action:
  • Ensure the new SFS has the support of the farming community, with food security and environmental protection at its core.
  • Work with the UK Government to expand on its minimal mention of farming in the general election manifesto and develop a comprehensive plan for farming across the UK.

The Welsh Labour Government has faced significant backlash over the SFS, particularly the requirements for farms to have at least 10% tree cover and 10% of land managed as semi-natural habitats. Farmers argue that these measures could take substantial portions of their land out of production, jeopardising their livelihoods.

Huw Irranca-Davies, Welsh Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change and Rural Affairs, has acknowledged these concerns and announced revisions to the SFS. The revised scheme, set to commence in 2026 with a preparatory phase in 2025, aims to balance environmental sustainability with economic viability. However, the Welsh Conservatives argue that more needs to be done to ensure the scheme truly supports farmers.

The upcoming debate is expected to be a crucial platform for discussing these issues and pushing for a more farmer-friendly approach to agricultural policy in Wales.

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Farming

Welsh Government revises Sustainable Farming Scheme after protests

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WELSH Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change and Rural Affairs, Huw Irranca-Davies, has announced that the Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) will commence in 2026, following a preparatory phase in 2025. This phase is intended to provide advice and support to farmers in advance of the scheme’s full implementation.

The SFS, which aims to create a sustainable agricultural sector in Wales, has been the subject of intense debate and protests from the farming community. Protests have been held across Wales, with significant demonstrations in March and April 2024. Farmers have raised concerns over the feasibility and financial implications of the scheme, particularly the requirements for farms to have at least 10% tree cover and 10% of land managed as semi-natural habitats. Many fear that these rules could take up to 20% of their land out of production, impacting their livelihoods.

In response to these concerns, Irranca-Davies published the Welsh Government’s revised plan on July 11, 2024. The consultation titled ‘Sustainable Farming Scheme: Keeping Farmers Farming’ received extensive feedback, leading to several key revisions:

  1. Revised Tree Cover Requirements: The 10% tree cover requirement has been clarified to apply only to suitable land, excluding areas unfit for planting or beyond a farmer’s control. This adjustment aims to reduce the burden on farmers while still promoting environmental benefits.
  2. Extended Timeline: The full implementation of the SFS is now scheduled for 2026, with a preparatory phase in 2025. This phase will offer advice and support to farmers to help them transition to the new scheme.
  3. Collaborative Development: The Welsh Government has established a Ministerial Roundtable to further engage with the farming community and other stakeholders. This forum will help shape the final design and implementation of the SFS, ensuring that it reflects the needs and concerns of all parties involved.
  4. Support and Stability Payments: During the transition period, farmers will receive Stability Payments to maintain their income levels. This measure is intended to mitigate financial instability as they adapt to the new requirements.
  5. Ongoing Consultation: The Carbon Sequestration Evidence Panel will continue to review and consider alternative proposals to enhance carbon sequestration within the scheme. The Government will provide periodic updates on the progress of these consultations throughout the year.

Irranca-Davies acknowledged the concerns raised by farmers, stating, “I know that this has been an unsettling time for many farmers and their families. We will continue to work at pace to finalise the scheme so that we can provide certainty about future support as soon as possible. By working together, we can ensure a sustainable agriculture industry in Wales for generations to come.”

Environmental groups such as RSPB Cymru and the Nature Friendly Farming Network support the scheme, emphasising the necessity of sustainable practices in the face of climate change. They argue that the revised scheme balances environmental stewardship with agricultural productivity.

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Farming

FUW sends message to Starmer for a fair annual funding for Welsh agriculture

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THE Farmers’ Union of Wales will waste no time in sending a clear message to the incoming UK Labour Government at Westminster that Wales seeks a fair, annual funding settlement of £450 million in EU CAP legacy funding to support food production, the rural economy and the work farmers do for the environment.

Winning a landslide general election at a time when Welsh farming faces an important crossroads, the UK Labour Party now has the opportunity to influence the future of rural Wales for decades to come.

Speaking in response to the results, FUW President Ian Rickman said: “Firstly, I would like to congratulate the newly elected Prime Minister and his party for a historic general election victory, and thank those MPs we have worked closely with over the past five years.

“This election has brought about considerable change to the political landscape of Wales, with a significant reduction in the number of constituencies, changes in boundaries, and now a new UK Labour Government holding a majority in Westminster.

“The FUW is not affiliated to any political party and is therefore prepared to engage and work with politicians from all parties to ensure the voices of Welsh farmers are heard.”

The FUW General Election Manifesto sets out the Union’s key priorities of the incoming government, focussing on securing a fair, multi-annual funding settlement of at least £450 million per year in EU CAP legacy funding for agriculture and rural development in Wales. The role of this support in underpinning food production, environmental protection and rural communities in Wales cannot be underestimated.

It is essential that the newly elected UK Government ensures that any future deals with other countries and trading blocs take a far more robust approach that protects UK farmers and food security. With that, food imports and exports must be subject to the same custom and standard controls which provides a level playing field between UK and EU producers.

The Union’s Manifesto also calls on the UK Government to introduce procurement policies that prioritise public body support for Welsh and British businesses and promote a more transparent supply chain.

“Whilst the direction of farming in Wales heavily depends on the development of devolved agricultural policies, we must not forget how decisions made by the incoming UK administration will effectively determine the degree of funding the Welsh Government has available to support agriculture and rural development. It will also rule the extent of which Welsh producers are expected to compete against producers in other UK nations and across the globe on various levels.

“This is why we will waste no time in contacting the newly elected MPs in Wales and those that take on influential roles in parliament to ensure that we outline our key priorities at an early stage.

“Despite the challenge of navigating an ever changing political landscape, our role as the FUW in lobbying governments for the best possible outcomes for Welsh agriculture remains constant and relentless,” said Ian Rickman.

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